HDL is good for your heart and blood vessel health because this lipoprotein helps to prevent blockages by moving cholesterol from cells through the blood and into the liver to be processed or excreted from the body.1,3
LDL on the other hand carries cholesterol from the blood into cells of the body. This type of lipoprotein can deposit cholesterol in your artery walls, causing a build up of cholesterol (called plaques), which may ultimately cause the arteries to narrow.1,3 This is known as atherosclerosis and depending on the arteries affected may result in chest pain (angina), a heart attack or a stroke.1,3 Having high levels of LDL cholesterol can increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.1 This is especially important if you also have other risk factors, and is why lowering LDL cholesterol levels (and ideally raising HDL cholesterol levels) can have cardiovascular benefits – whether you already have, or are at risk of developing, cardiovascular disease, or just want to reduce your chances of ever having one of these conditions.
You are at higher risk of heart disease and stroke if you have high cholesterol and you:
- aren't physically active
- have high blood pressure
- have diabetes
- are overweight or obese.
What causes high cholesterol levels?
Having high total cholesterol in your blood stream does not happen as the result of eating one high-fat meal. However, if you regularly eat foods that are high in saturated and trans fats (eg,. fatty and processed meats, take-away foods and store-bought baked goods) then you are more likely to have elevated levels of total and LDL cholesterol.3
Certain medical conditions (eg, diabetes, underactive thyroid) can also contribute to abnormal cholesterol levels.4
High cholesterol can also be inherited, which is the case in familial hypercholesterolaemia – where the body doesn't remove enough cholesterol from the blood. This condition affects 1 in every 500 Australians, although many do not know they have it.5